NEW DELHI (AFP) – Indian police carried out raids across New Delhi Thursday as they hunted for a further six men wanted over the gang-rape of a Danish tourist which has cast the country’s record on sexual violence back into the spotlight.
Police announced the arrest of two homeless men late on Wednesday who are suspected of taking part in the assault and robbery of the 51-year-old victim on Tuesday.
The duo, covering their faces to hide their identify from the waiting media, appeared in a city court on Thursday afternoon where they were remanded in custody for three days, the PTI news agency reported.
The tourist, travelling alone and in Delhi after visiting the Taj Mahal, had lost her way as she returned to her hotel in the main backpackers’ area and apparently approached a group of men for directions.
“We have already arrested two of the eight suspects in the case and are still carrying out raids across different locations to nab others,” Additional Commissioner of Delhi Police Alok Kumar told AFP.
The senior police officer said that all the accused were “young men, mostly vagabonds” and that they had assaulted the victim for almost three hours at knife-point.
More than 15 homeless men were rounded up for questioning on Wednesday around the crime scene, a secluded part of gardens near the New Delhi railway station.
“The arrest of two men has revealed identities of the other accomplices and we are looking for them,” Kumar added.
Last month, India marked the first anniversary of the death of a student who was gang-raped on a moving bus in the capital, in an attack that sent shockwaves across the nation.
Four men, mostly poor migrants from states around New Delhi, were sentenced to death in September for the attack while a teenager was also convicted and sentenced to three years in detention.
Despite tougher laws and efforts to change attitudes to women in India’s deeply patriarchal society, the number of reported sex crimes continues to rise.
Under a headline proclaiming “Delhi Shamed Again”, the Hindustan Times newspaper said that the attack undermined police assurances that the capital was becoming a safer place for women.
“The sexual assault of a Danish tourist in the heart of the city has once again exposed the tall claims of Delhi Police that they have taken ample steps to ensure the safety of foreigners,” said the newspaper.
“What is more shocking in the case is the fact that the crime spot is barely 400 metres from the nearest police booth.”
The issue of women’s safety in the capital became a major factor in state elections last month which saw the long-ruling Congress party swept from power and replaced by Aam Aadmi, a new anti-corruption party.
“Insecurity of women is a national shame,” Anand Kumar, one of the party’s leaders, told India’s NDTV network.
“It is our acid test and we must show that we are a government with a difference.”
Several homeless people told AFP that they had helped police identify one of the two men to be arrested, saying he had a history of violence.
“He used to pick-pocket and snatch stuff off people, even steal the mobile phones from passengers on trains on the platforms,” one homeless teenager said on condition of anonymity.
“In the past we had complained to police about him, about his abusive behaviour towards us, but our complaints were ignored… He was really aggressive,” another teenager said, showing knife wounds to a reporter.
There are fears that publicity over a string of sex attacks on foreign women will drive down tourist numbers.
A Polish woman was drugged and raped as she travelled to the Indian capital with her two-year-old daughter earlier this month.
A judge last month sentenced three Nepalese men to 20 years in jail for the gang-rape of a US tourist in June while six men were sentenced to life in prison last July for the gang-rape and robbery of a Swiss female cyclist who was on holiday with her partner.